U.S. Steel's Midwest Division

U.S. Steel's Midwest Division in Portage as seen from Portage Lakefront Park and Riverwalk in November 2016. The park is just across Burns Waterway from the factory.

Doug Ross, The Times

PORTAGE — The city's Utility Services Board is seeking inclusion in any action taken by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management regarding U.S. Steel.

Board Chairman Mark Oprisko has asked the board's attorney to send a letter to both agencies, along with the Indiana attorney general "to be included as a party to any negotiations between the EPA, IDEM and U.S. Steel Corporation as to any consent decree which may be contemplated."

Oprisko said Tuesday he sent an email to the board over the weekend advising his intent to act as board chairman, and while he hasn't polled fellow members, who also serve as Portage's City Council, he is asking for their support.

At a meeting earlier this month, the board appointed member Collin Czilli and their attorney to look into what the board could do legally, including joining an "intent to sue" claim filed by the University of Chicago Abrams Environmental Law Clinic on Nov. 13 regarding the steelmaker's alleged continued violations of the Clean Water Act.

Czilli said he, attorney Ken Elwood and Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham had a telephone conversation with representatives of the law clinic and learned they had 60 days from the filing of the notice of intent to sue to become a party in the action. Czilli said the board wants to make sure that if there is any settlement on "day 59" of the notice, that the board is a part of the negotiations and settlement.

"It is about protecting the public health and safety of our residents and their drinking water. IDEM and the EPA haven't stepped up to the plate yet and we want to put pressure on the state and federal regulators," he said.

Oprisko said the steelmaker has not been honest with the city since a spill of hexavalent chromium into the Burns Waterway in April.

"At that time, officials repeatedly told this board that the discharge was a 'one-time event' which was the result of a 'fluke mechanical failure' which they did not expect to occur again. Not six months later, it is reported that U.S. Steel Corporation had again violated the clean Water Act by discharging excessive levels of chromium into Lake Michigan," Oprisko said.

City officials said they learned of the second spill after the law clinic filed its intent to sue and that neither the company nor state and federal regulators had contacted them.

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Porter County reporter

Joyce has been a staff writer for The Times for more than 20 years. She is the municipal and education reporter for Porter County. She is an amateur genealogist and writes a blog, Remember your Roots, appearing online each Thursday.